Essay on Sistine Chapel

Michelangelo de Buonarotti, a distinguished painter, sculptor, architect, and poet of Italy was born in 1475 in the territory of Arezzo, in Tuscany. His time was of a new age of enlightenment where artistic and inventive freedom was beginning to come back into the forefront, Michelangelo stands as the archetype of the Renaissance genius, with a talent that transcends time and continues to influence and inspire contemporary artists. Michelangelo grew up and was first exposed to stone carving, “he regarded himself first and foremost as a sculptor.” (FIERO) Michelangelo was commissioned by Pope Julius II Della Rovere in 1508 to repaint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel frescoed earlier by Piero Matteo d’Amelia with a star-spangled sky. Buonarroti, who had always regarded himself as a sculptor, would now have to perfect the art of fresco. Michelangelo’s lament that “painting is not my art” proved a hollow objection since the pope’s stubbornness was greater than his. However, like all commissions that Michelangelo initially resisted, once he reconciled himself to the task, he threw himself into it with unrestrained energy. For four years, from 1508 to 1512, Michelangelo struggled with the manifold difficulties of painting nearly ten thousand square feet of a highly irregular, leaky vault. “Michelangelo inherited an enormous project more than three decades later, in 1547 having proved himself, among his other accomplishments, the most inventive and influential architect of the century.” (BECK) He painted the Last Judgment over the altar, between 1535 and 1541, being commissioned by Pope Paul III Farnese.

The Last Judgment, which Michelangelo finished in 1541 was the largest fresco of the Renaissance, it depicts Judgment Day. The entire ceiling and the altar wall were done in pure fresco. “Michelangelo declared that he would only do it in fresco, and that oil painting was a woman’s art and only fit for lazy well-to-do people.” (DeVECCHI) This fresco covers the entire altar wall. It is filled with angels, demons, and people. The people in this fresco appear to be either going to heaven or hell. The figure in the middle appears to be Christ because he has a bright light that surrounds him. There are also many references to his crucifixion on the fresco. Michelangelo painted the figures to be both nude and some are clothed. Those figures that are nude are…

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…ll the Sack of Rome and the Reformation, and the confident humanism and Christian Neoplatonism of the Ceiling had curdled into the personal pessimism and despondency of the Judgment. “The very choice of subject is indicative of the new mood, as is the curious fact that the mouth of Hell gapes over the altar itself where, during services, stands a crucifix symbolizing Christ standing between Man and Doom.” (KING) Michelangelo’s intent was very clear, he wanted to represent what the Last Judgment would be like at this point. Michelangelo definitely was very creative when creating his subject matter; a lot of his figures are from Greek Mythology. When I compare Michelangelo’s the Last Judgment with Emperor Justinian and his Courtiers c.547, I can see how the reformation of the Classical Style has returned. The emphasis on a perfect human figure was very “Greek Like” as apposed to Justinian and his Courtiers, which is very Byzantine. Not only is it Byzantine but also the subject matter completely looses focus on Christ, he is not even represented in the mural at all. Michelangelo was clearly trying to focus on Christ for he emblems of the power to bind and to release men from sin.


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